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Word: Testing Modern Comments and issues found

May 16, 2021

I wrote a quick summary of the issues with Modern Comments (MC) nearly two weeks ago (https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2021/05/04/word-modern-comments-means-the-price-goes-up-as-productivity-takes-a-massive-hit/). Since then, I’ve allowed my laptop to upgrade to the latest Word 365 (version 2014, build 13929.20296), and have extensively tested Modern Comments to see what the issues are and how they may affect writers and especially editors, who often work on very long and complex documents written for fields such as the corporate and business world, government, legal and regulatory bodies, medical entities, academia and education, and more, as well as fiction books.

(NOTE: The full testing document has been shared with somebody who may be able to get this raised with Microsoft. I could not test everything in my environment, so some issues were raised by those commenting on this webpage linked to in my first post: https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/microsoft-365-blog/introducing-modern-comments-in-microsoft-word/ba-p/2263182. Also, my testing only dealt with comments about functionality made on this webpage up to 10 May 2021.)

The main areas of concern, among others, relate to:

  • loss of functionality that has existed since comments were introduced many years ago (it’s broken)
  • extra clicks and mouse movements that have to be done to insert, save, or edit a comment (it’s not ergonomically efficient)
  • impingement on valuable screen ‘real estate’ (it’s hard to use and is not efficient)
  • lack of connection between comments and the text they relate to (it’s hard to use and is not efficient)
  • resulting additional time and loss of productivity (and therefore extra cost to the client) it takes to review/edit documents and make comments for author action (it’s not efficient)
  • no option to revert to ‘classic’ comments, with their previous functionality, including an option to turn off collaboration features.

I’ve divided this post up into (no order of priority or severity is implied):

This is a long post, so you might want to grab a coffee…

Update June 2021: For the really short version, see this brilliant cartoon from Iva Cheung: https://ivacheung.com/2021/07/modern-comments/

Overall issues

  • The functionality of using comments has been greatly reduced with the introduction of Modern Comments (MC) into Microsoft Word. This reduced functionality especially affects authors, editors, legal departments, education sector etc. and there’s no option to revert to ‘classic comments’. Main issues relate to:
    • Efficiency
    • Usability
    • Accessibility
    • Screen real estate
    • Things that no longer work in comments that did before
    • No option to turn off these new ‘features’
  • Possible crashing as a result of using too many system resources to render Modern Comments. (Could not test, but reported by others) In long docs with many comments, adding more comments or doing other things results in ‘not responding’. If you try to click multiple times while in that state, Word crashes

Collaboration issues

  • Collaboration features are not required by many people. Most writers and editors work alone, NOT collaboratively, and do not need real-time collaboration features
  • SharePoint integration varies with different versions of Word. ( I couldn’t test this) Comment from the webpage: No one else in my firm has this unwanted update. This means that their comments sometimes appear in the regular comment pane, but mine float to the right of it. Sometimes their comments float too. When I have both the comment pane and the floating comments, I get an immediate red-x synching error from SharePoint and all parties have to stop work on the doc until we can resolve the issue.
  • Comments on docs stored in SharePoint have no Comments column on opening, even if there are comments. Comment from webpage: I opened a shared Word document in an absolute panic because the comment column was gone. When you first open a doc, it’s not clear whether or not there are comments. This really negatively impacts my day-to-day workflow. MC simply does not make sense from a user standpoint. I have to switch between the comment views constantly, and with how slow and cumbersome SharePoint is when more than one user is in a document, I could miss deadlines.
  • Issues when using MC in Teams, WebEx etc. Comment from webpage: Disastrous for cooperative comment resolutions using Teams, WebEx, or other conferencing programs. I help develop technical standards. Many members use laptops. Sharing a Word document with MC in a way that others can see the comment as well as the text being edited is no longer possible. You spend all of your time moving between the text and comment, which is incredibly unproductive

Extra clicks, different functionality

  • Exiting the comment box using the ESC key DELETES THE COMMENT with no option to save. Exiting the comment box does not auto save the comment – must use Ctrl+Enter or click the Send icon (i.e. explicit action to save). Can’t press ESC or click away to save comment and return to main doc as before: if you use ESC, any comment you have written is deleted automatically with NO option to save; if you click away, then try to add a new comment (e.g. with Ctrl+Alt+m) and start typing, you add to the previous (unsaved comment) instead of a new comment or click away, the comment is not saved and the next comment gets appended to previous (unsaved) comment, or deletes it. This previous comment might be several pages earlier. NOTE: The ESC action has worked for decades, so this changes the whole workflow for long-time editors etc.
  • Editing your own comment after saving (posting) requires an extra two clicks. Can’t click in an existing comment of your own to edit it – instead have to click the 3 dots then select Edit Comment, which is two more actions to take than previously. Although you can physically click in an existing comment, you can’t do anything. For those used to doing this in previous versions, they could end up typing away without realising nothing was being kept. No obvious keyboard combination for editing a comment either (and nothing listed in Word Commands > ListCommands macro)
  • Cursor disappears from view after you’ve posted a comment. (I could not confirm this reported issue in my own testing)

Functions not working

  • AutoCorrect and AutoText no longer work in comment boxes. This is a MAJOR inefficiency / productivity / consistency issue for editors. In previous versions of Word, you could insert autocorrect and autotext shortcuts into a comment box and they would resolve to their full text. For example, I have a 6 character autocorrect that resolves to a 162 character comment, which I might use 200 times in a document, equating to 1200 keystrokes. With no autocorrect functionality, I now have to type 32,400 keystrokes, which is 30,400 more than I need to – just in ONE document! Autocorrect also makes my comments consistent every time, something we ask authors to be, so not having consistency in our own work is a bad example for our writers.
  • Typing a new sentence in a comment does not auto capitalise the first letter. In previous versions of Word, if you typed a period, question mark, or exclamation point followed by a space then the next word, the word after the punctuation would be automatically capitalised in comments. It no longer is. This makes editors look bad and as if they don’t know what they’re doing, and slows us down to manually correct these errors.
  • Toggling between cases does not work. Using F3 to toggle between upper case, title case, and lower case does not work in comments as it did previously. The case icon on the Home tab does work.
  • Spellcheck is activated in comments even when turned off for the document. If you turn off ‘Check spelling as you type’ in Options, there’s no difference in the comments—spelling errors are automatically checked and get red squigglies
  • Spellcheck does not work in comments consistently. Spellcheck worked in previous versions of Word comments. In MC whether spellcheck works or not seems to depend on what you’re doing:
    • Writing initial comment: spellcheck works and red squigglies indicate misspelled words
    • Editing an existing comment: spellcheck works only for new words, not for previously misspelled and uncorrected words [no red squigglies for these as per previous versions])
  • Grammar check does not work in comments. Grammar check does not work in MC (it worked in previous versions of Word comments)
  • All comments are removed when you save a document as a PDF when it ONLY has comments (if it has track changes + comments, both are saved to the PDF). If All Markup is the active state and you save a document that ONLY has comments (i.e. not track changes) as a PDF, all the comments are removed from the resulting PDF. If the doc has track changes AND comments, then both are preserved. This is a MAJOR issue for those editing regulatory docs etc. as the PDF is often the only doc sent to such bodies and they need to see the comments
  • Font formatting (except for bold, italic, underlining, highlighting, and hyperlinks) doesn’t work in comments. Many character/font formatting actions are now unavailable from the ribbon when the cursor is in a comments box. Right-click from within the comments box has a very limited range of options, compared to previous versions. All these character/font formatting actions worked in previous versions of Word comments, including from keyboard shortcuts, floating toolbar when right-click on a comment, and/or the ribbon:
    • superscript / subscript (big issue for anyone worked with abbreviated chemical names and square and cubic units of measure, among others)
    • insert en/em dash
    • font colour
    • auto bullets / auto numbering
    • toggle case using F3
    • format painter to apply saved formatting to other text
    • others?
  • Search terms found in comments are not highlighted. Comments are still listed in the general search results (done via Ctrl+f) but are NOT highlighted inline. If you have a LONG thread of comments by the same reviewer, only the main comment box is highlighted (darker colour border only) to indicate it contains the search terms, and the term is NOT highlighted. In previous Word versions, you could do a:
    • general search (Ctrl+f) – comments were included in results, and the text was highlighted
    • specific search within comments (Ctrl+h > Find tab > Find In > Comments) (still works the same as pervious versions)
  • Macros in comments don’t work. (As reported by Paul Beverley [macro guru] and others—I have no further details)
  • Macros from Word add-ins that used to work with or grab info from comments may no longer work. Macros from Word add-ins that used to work with, or grab information from, comments may no longer work. This comprises the efficiency of those who use these macros regularly, and creates more work for the developers of these add-ins who may have to completely rewrite their code libraries.
  • Right-click context menu has very limited functionality and many options previously available are gone. Previous Word versions had multiple options on right-clicking within comments (extensive functions from shortcut menu [including edit, delete, and resolve comment] + floating contextual formatting bar). The right-click functions are now limited to basic cut, copy, paste, and link.
  • Right-to-left text direction bug (formatting issue?) (I could not test this, but reported by others on the webpage linked to above) Right-to-left languages are used in many countries, so for these functions to not work, discriminates those using those languages. Are all these issues related to the removal of all but the most basic formatting options in MC?
  • Moving from one comment to another using Page Up/Page Down in contextual view stops at the end of each page and you have to go back to the main doc and restart navigating through the comments from the top of the next page. In previous versions of Word, you could click the Page Up/Page Down arrows to move from one comment to the next, throughout the entire document. This still works in MC but ONLY in List view. If you are in contextual view, the Page Up/Down function stops at the top/bottom of the page you’re on and you have to manually go to the next page in the main doc, click the next comment, then start the Page Up/Down again. And if there are more comments for a page than can be displayed in the contextual boxes, the up/down sequence stops at the last visible comment box, not the last comment.
  • Moving from one comment to another does not display the page number (in the status bar) where the active comment is located. In previous versions of Word’s comments, you could click the Page Up/Page Down arrows to move from one comment to the next. When you landed in a comment, the status bar changed to reflect the page number where the comment was. With MC, when you do this, you can move from one comment to the next, but the page number no longer reflects where the comment is.
  • Handwritten/ink comments not working. (I could not test this, but reported by others on the webpage linked to above)
  • Font size cannot be changed in comments. Couldn’t do so in previous versions of Word either, from within the comment box, but could modify the Comment Text style or the comment directly—the Reviewing pane showed the changed font size, even though the comments box didn’t. Lack of font size increase (direct, style, or when zooming) is especially bad for those with vision issues. Some commenters on the webpage reported issues about possible screen resolution issues as well, when zoomed in.
  • Cross-references to a section, figure, table, etc. do not work in MC. In previous versions of Word, you could insert a cross-reference to another part of the document into a comment (e.g. Section 3.1.2; Table 4-5; Appendix 4). This no longer works and all functions on the References tab are no longer available when you’re in a comment box. This is a major issue for those with long complex documents with outline numbering, many tables/figures, potentially hundreds of numbered cross-referenced citations, etc.
  • Symbols and equations cannot be inserted into MC. Can no longer insert a symbol into a comment (e.g. degree, multiplication, accented characters, check marks, primes etc.) as you could in previous versions of Word.
  • Quick Parts (of any type) cannot be inserted into MC. In previous versions of Word, these all worked in comments boxes—insert field, insert autotext/building blocks (though only those stored in normal.dotm, not in BuildingBlocks.docx); and insert doc property. None work in MC.
  • Special characters and symbols (e.g. €, ©, ™) don’t work in MC. Authors and editors do not want emojis in their Word document (we are not 12 years old!), especially if they are in a business, academic, legal etc. environment. However, they may well want to enter a €, ©, or ™ symbol into a comment. In previous versions of Word, punctuation resolved to relevant symbol or emoji on pressing the space bar and Ctrl+z undid the action, returning to the characters typed. However, in MC:
    • Emojis seem to work (e.g. :-) ), but Ctrl+z returns you to the characters typed EXCEPT for the last character, which it deletes; if you then add that character again BECAUSE YOU WANT THE CHARACTER and NOT the emoji, it reverts to an emoji again and you can’t get just the characters
    • Conventions such as (c) and (e) to create the copyright or Euro symbols don’t work at all in MC and you only get the characters typed. And you can’t select these from the Symbols list either, as you can’t insert a Symbol into MC
  • Some Word commands no longer work with MCs. (Not tested by me, but reported on the webpage) Examples of those that no longer work are: NextChangeOrComment, AcceptChange, RejectChange, SelectNextChange. The person reporting this said that a DeleteAnnotation command has been added, but nothing similar for selecting an annotation, moving to the next/previous annotation, or accept/resolve annotation.
  • Images and icons cannot be inserted into a MC. In previous versions of Word, you could insert pictures and icons and then resize these once they were in the comments box. In MC, the options to insert anything are unavailable when you are in the comments box. If you insert a picture/icon into the main doc, then copy it, you can paste it into the comments box, but as soon as you ‘post’ it disappears and the comment is empty.
  • Resolved comments disappear (in contextual view). In previous versions of Word, all comments—whether resolved or not—showed in one continuous list in the track changes/comments lane. Resolved comments were in light grey, but you could see them and reopen them. In MC, resolved comments disappear in contextual view and you’re left with a placeholder ‘speech bubble’ icon with a check mark. Clicking on that check mark opens the Comments pane, where you can now see the resolved comments, and from where you can reopen them.
  • Cannot edit someone else’s comment. In previous versions of Word, you could edit someone else’s comment, with no trace that you had done so. You cannot do this in MC. This function was handy for an editor to correct a reviewer’s typos/spelling errors so that the original reviewer didn’t look unprofessional, but there were likely always auditing/traceability issues for legal docs etc.

Version compatibility issues

  • From a Microsoft support page (not confirmed): “If you view a document in which a colleague has inserted a comment using the MC feature, you won’t be able to see it in the older version.” Potentially, anyone who is not using MC will not be able to see comments inserted by those who are. [NOTE: This was not an issue for me in my testing, but I was testing with just myself as a reviewer, in Windows 10, and in slightly different versions of Word 365 for Windows. Those using older versions of Word, or standalone versions, or different OS versions may have different results] (UPDATE: I’ve since had more information on this: “That information came from the article ‘Modern Comments in Word’, https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/modern-comments-in-word-53d8b54e-5036-40f8-9a09-3271dea169ba (was in the last paragraph of the article). Among other things, I and others raised this as a big issue with Microsoft. They returned and said that the article was not correct and afterwards, the wording was changed to: ‘Modern Comments are available only if you’re using Word for Microsoft 365. If you’re using an older version of Office, you’ll still see comments from other users, but in the classic Comments experience.'”)
  • Comments from an early Word version that include font formatting such as tabs, superscript etc. convert to plain text in MC. In previous versions of Word, all formatting worked (see issues regarding character/font formatting above). When you open a doc containing comments with formatting in the MC version of Word, the comment text remains, but all formatting is lost. When you try to edit the comment, you get this message: ‘This comment contains content this app can’t display. Editing may result in changing or losing that content. Click Cancel if you don’t want to risk it.’ The options are Proceed and Cancel. When you click Proceed, all formatting is lost, and only plain text remains—e.g. a superscript ‘3’ is now a standard ‘3’

View/screen real estate issues

  • If revision balloons are showing for tracked changes (Track Changes Options window > Balloons… > Revisions), the comments (in either contextual or list view) add a 3rd ‘lane’, thus squeezing the main document into a narrower area. In previous versions of Word, if you had All Markup on, track changes of all types and comments were all in one lane (2nd lane), to the right of the main document (1st lane). With MC a 3rd lane is added, which severely compromises screen real estate, esp. on laptops and small devices like tablets, or on swivel monitors in portrait mode. (Note: The 3rd lane only shows if you have Track Changes Options window > Balloons… > Revisions selected, not if you have Comments and Formatting selected, which only uses 2 lanes.) This 3rd lane limits your ability to view two docs side by side (now almost impossible on a laptop), or zoom out to see two (or more) pages in a single window. In addition, if you have the MC in list view and zoom out to see multiple pages, the comments become contextual yet there’s empty space on the right side (presumably for the now-turned-off list view, even though it’s not active). A zoomed out view that could previously fit 6 pages across, can now only fit 4, with extra blank space on the right. The vertical scroll bar is to the left of this empty space too, not at the far right of the window, as previously. When you return to 100% view, this blank space doesn’t go away until you reselect the list view (and even then it renders slowly or not at all on a large document).
  • Comment markers no longer join to text with a visible line. Comment speech bubble icons, when clicked, only show the comment and a faint colour shading for the text being commented on—there is no other visual indicator to join the comment with the text being commented on. Note: The shading on my laptop was tones of purple, from a pale lilac to a medium violet—I couldn’t see any way to change the colour for my comments compared to others, or just for readability purposes.

    How comments were indicated in previous versions of Word—obvious lines and obvious colours

    How comments are indicated with Modern Comments—no lines, just speech bubble icons; pale colours

  • Speech bubble icons, which indicate the presence of a comment, overlap if two or more are close to each other (e.g. multiple separate comments on the same line). Hard to see/distinguish multiple comments (speech bubble icons) for a line of text. Zooming out doesn’t help very much.
  • Hard to identify which comment relates to which text, or vice versa. Hard to ascertain the specific comment that links to a shaded piece of text, or conversely, which text a comment relates to—have to click on the text, a comment, or a speech bubble icon to see its relationship to the text. Colour shading is so subtle that it’s almost impossible to see the changes or the active comment/text selected.
  • Contrast issue between active and resolved comments in list view. Previous versions of Word changed resolved comments to a light grey colour, which was hard to read too, but in list view for MC, the pale grey background of resolved comments is not far removed from white and is hard to distinguish.
  • Resolution and jumping issues. In large documents, screen refreshing is a problem when you have multiple comments. My test doc was ~400p and had some 500 comments. It took quite some time for the Reviewing pane to open and there were issues with empty spaces (where the comments list view had been) when zooming out to a multiple-page view. See also the information on Word crashing when it uses up system resources (Overall issue).
  • Comment bubble icons superimposed on tables. (Not an issue for me in testing) Comment on webpage: Comments icons are superimposed on my table text and there is no way to move them.
  • Space taken by comment boxes. MC boxes are large—much larger than the previous balloons used for comments. In addition to the larger box, there’s a lot of information in a comment box that could perhaps be streamlined better, thus reducing the height of the boxes; for example:
    • Round disk for reviewer’s initials (is this really necessary?)
    • Reviewer’s name
    • 3-dot menu for extra functions
    • Comment
    • Date and time
    • Reply box
    • Changeable width of borders around box
    • Post and cancel icons when in creating/editing a comment
    • Excessive white space.
  • In contextual view, when you have many comments on a page, the bottom ones fade off and you can’t see them in the 3rd lane. In previous versions of Word, when there were too many comments on the page to see them all, you’d see the balloons and some ellipses indicating there was more info. With MC, you lose those extra comments entirely as they fade out of view. This is not an issue with list view, only contextual view (list view has its own problems in that you can’t see what comment belongs to what piece of text, which is not good in contextual view either, but is a little better).
  • Text in comments looks blurred. (Could not confirm in my testing)
  • Split window view is unusable with MC. Splitting the window for a document doesn’t split the comments pane (contextual view is not available when you are using split view)—instead you have one long list of comments. Also, as per an earlier issue, the page numbers do not indicate where the comment is in split view either.
  • Web layout view does not show comments in contextual view. Previous versions of Word: Web layout showed comments on the far right when Simple or All Markup was turned on. With MC, you can see and click on the speech bubble icons, and then the list view shows the comments. Contextual view is not an available option.
  • Comments move position from where you expect. (I couldn’t confirm this in testing)
  • Lose parts of text from the 3 lanes if have both track changes and MC in view. With MC, text disappears (is cut off) either from the track changes area or the comments area – have to scroll to see it all.
  • Added 21 May 2021: Comments that are longer than 3 lines are truncated to 3 lines until you click on them. You see 3 lines and the very faint outline of the tops of the letters on the 4th line, and that faint text is the only indication that a comment might have more than 3 lines. If you have three lines followed by text in a new paragraph, you can’t see that there’s more—there’s no visual indication (like an ellipsis) that the comment is longer than 3 lines. You have to click on it to see the full comment.

Suggested workarounds for some issues

  • Press Ctrl+Enter to save a comment
  • Reduce the amount of screen real estate taken up with the 3rd lane by only showing Comments and Formatting (Track Changes Options window > Balloons… > select Comments and Formatting) and turning off track formatting

  • Use a text expansion program (e.g. PhraseExpress [PE], TextExpander) instead of AutoCorrect (AC) for your editing comments (NOTE: Beware: If you use the same code in AC and in PE, the code from PE will work in the comments, but in the main document, you’ll get a double-up of the expanded text. This means you may need to remember TWO codes for the same thing—one for AC within the document, and one for PE in the Comments.  For example, I have an AC and a PE code of .epa for Environmental Protection Authority. If I type .epa followed by a space in a MC, PE resolves it to Environmental Protection Authority, as expected. But if I type .epa in the document, I get Environmental Protection AuthorityEnvironmental Protection Authority. Before MC, I would only get one instance, not two.)
  • Use the case icon on the Home tab to toggle case
  • Use the highlight icon on the Home tab to highlight text
  • When you click on a speech bubble icon for a comment, you can still use the Up and Down arrow keys to move to the previous or next comment.
  • You can resize and move the Comments pane (list view); macro to resize the Comments pane: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2021/05/21/word-macro-to-show-the-modern-comments-pane-and-reduce-its-width/.
  • Another workaround: Avoid using Modern Comments entirely, and instead use EndNotes and macros that work in EndNotes. See this video from Paul Beverley: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XShh1XtFPEc

Things that still work (added 21 May 2021)

  • Ctrl+Alt+m to insert a new comment
  • Select an entire comment (Ctrl+a), copy it (Ctrl+c) and paste it (Ctrl+v) into another comment box
  • Dictate! I was surprised this worked. When you’ve inserted a comment box, instead of typing, you can click Dictate on the Home tab and speak your comment

[Links last checked May 2021]

8 comments

  1. thanks for sharing. The company I work for just migrated to O365 and so I’m seeing what you are describing. I don’t like the way they have people ‘vote’ for fixes now or how they make presumptions about collaboration. Not everyone wants or needs to make changes in real time. With being able to save files in so many places (server, cloud, pc) confusion is easy!


  2. Rhonda,

    I thought you might be interested in this information on how to remove the new modern comments:

    https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/microsoft-365-blog/introducing-modern-comments-in-microsoft-word/bc-p/2350270#M1793

    Cheers,

    Alex

    Alexandra Peace AlexandraPeace.com Editor/Proofreader/Indexer President, Indexing Society of Canada / Société canadienne d’indexation (ISC/SCI) member of Editors Canada and Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading


  3. […] the introduction of the hated Modern Comments, I’ve been very mindful that the Word 365 version I’m using might show different icons […]


  4. […] the introduction of the hated Modern Comments, I’ve been very mindful that the Word 365 version I’m using might show different icons […]


  5. […] I did some extensive testing of Modern Comments after writing this blog post and here’s a summary of my results: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2021/05/16/word-testing-modern-comments-and-issues-found/ […]


  6. Thanks for this list. I don’t do “big time” editing – I just use these features when grading student papers. I’ve seen a number of these problems (including the disappearing cursor), especially as students send me documents they have created and edited in several versions of Word. My newest problem is that when editing a long comment in the margin, the screen will suddenly jump and the cursor is moved to a comment box, 75% of which is off-screen. I can’t find a way to make the comment box appear fully on-screen. I really wonder what people at Microsoft use for their word-processing software… Thanks for your work :)


  7. Thanks for the suggestions and tips. But my work has a lot of editing to do in the comments made by someone else. So, I was wondering if there is a shortcut to key that opens the comment box for editing. Will be very grateful if someone can help

    Zameer


  8. I know this is an old post, but I found it, so in case others are seeking: to edit a comment in Mac OS, you can assign a shortcut to the command “AnnotationEdit” (And why is it not “CommentEdit”?!?! Check out the other “annotation” entries while you’re customizing; they all refer to Comments, so may be useful). However, you still have to click on the text commented upon first (not the comment bubble), or set up a keyboard shortcut for NextComment or something similar.



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